The stunning island of Gili Trawangan

The stunning island of Gili Trawangan

Should be enough to melt even the most travel-hardened heart. With its incredible beaches, crystal clear turtle-filled waters and mind-blowing sunsets, most people find it hard to leave this tropical paradise and end up staying for much longer than planned.

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Gili Trawangan is the outermost of a chain of three islands which extend outwards from the Sire peninsula, near the village of Tanjung on the island of Lombok. Gili Trawangan is the largest of the three islands and is where the main village and the majority of the islands’ population can be found. Gili Trawangan’s village is the island’s beating heart and socializing in the village bars generally goes on late into the tropical night. As well as its relaxed buzz, Gili Trawangan can boast the best sunsets out of the trio of islands, as it has uninterrupted views to the west across the Lombok Strait over to Bali, although the views of Lombok’s Mount Rinjani, Indonesia’s second highest volcano, to the east are equally impressive. If you’re looking for absolute peace and quiet, Gili Meno or Gili Air might suit you better than Gili Trawangan, as the largest island is a magnet for young travellers, drawn by the beauty of the island as well as the nightlife.

Gili Trawangan

was only settled relatively recently, with coconut plantations being established in the 1970s. Before that it had served as a stop off for fishermen in the archipelago. In the 1980s the Gili islands were discovered by the travelling community, and their popularity soared in the 1990s as the word spread about the unparalleled diving opportunities that the coral reefs surrounding the three islands offer.

One of the main charms of the islands is that they are all blessed with the same perfect tropical climate. The volcanoes on Lombok and Bali mean that these little pockets of paradise have a slightly drier climate than other parts of Indonesia. Dry Season is between May and October and the Monsoon arrives in November and lasts until April, but the average annual temperature is a balmy 28°C, perfect beach weather.

The islands

are covered in beautiful coconut palms and surrounded by calm, shallow, azure-blue seas, with the waves breaking out on the reef. The diving from the island is world-class, affordably priced and the diversity of sea-life is sure to knock anyone’s socks off, but if you don’t fancy going scuba diving, “In this little slice of paradise you can come face to face with a few turtles”the submarine beauty can all be appreciated from above with the help of a snorkel, which are rented out cheaply all over the island. You’ll be extremely unlucky if you don’t catch a glimpse of one of the many turtles that inhabit these warm tropical waters. The entire island is ringed by various white sandy beaches, so there’s no need to stick to the village beach which can be crowded at peak times. Beachgoers can wander around the island until they find their own private slice of paradise.

One of the best things about these islands is that motorized traffic is not allowed, meaning you feel that by stepping off the boat you’ve stepped back in time. Gili Trawangan is only 3km long and 2km wide and so you can easily get about on foot, by rented bicycle (although the sandy tracks can be challenging for the less-energetic) or by cidomo, which are local horse-drawn carriages.

The island of Bali

is Hindu, but Lombok and the Gili Islands are Muslim, as is the rest of the nation of Indonesia. As the islands are all but dedicated to beach tourism, the only differences you’ll notice are the call to prayer from the village mosque and, if you happen to visit during the month of Ramadan, that the normally buzzing night-life is much quieter. On the other hand, bar owners tend to get around the no-music rule with silent discoes, so you’ll still have plenty of chances to dance! If you’re considering visiting during Ramadan, don’t let this put you off as the island’s main charms are its glorious beaches and seductive sunsets.

Here are a few top tips to make sure you have the best Gili Trawangan experience
  • Choose accommodation

    as far away from the mosque as possible. There’s plenty of accommodation available on Gili Trawangan, so most people just turn up on a boat and wander around until they find a room. The mosque is hidden away in the middle of the village, and you won’t notice how close you are to it until the call to prayer wakes you up at the crack of dawn. Being closer to the shoreline and out of the centre of town might cost you a little more per night, but uninterrupted lie-ins will be more than worth it. On the other hand, if you’re a heavy sleeper and nothing short of an earthquake could wake you up, the closer to the mosque you are the cheaper your room will probably be!
  • Go and see the sunset, every day

    This is one of Gili Trawangan’s biggest selling points. There are three Gili Islands and Trawangan is the last in the chain, so it has uninterrupted views out across the Lombok Strait over to Bali. The village is on the eastern side of the island, so head around to the other side in time for the incredible sight of the sun disappearing behind Mount Batur, a beautifully formed volcano which is then silhouetted against the setting sun. There’s normally a bonfire going once the light fades and this is a great spot to get chatting to other travellers. The sight of the sun setting behind the volcano never gets old, so make it your evening routine, once the sun has disappeared from the beaches on the eastern side, to wander round to the sunset side in time for the big event.
  • Eat at the night market

    After you’ve enjoyed the sunset, head back around to the village for dinner at the night market. In a small square right by the beach locals serve up a huge selection of delicious food. You can’t miss it! There’s something for everyone, but the corn on the cob cooked in spiced butter is to die for as a starter, the pancakes are a meal in themselves and the fish is, obviously, spectacular. Try something different every night!
  • Relax and enjoy

    Life is pretty simple on the Gili Islands, and it isn’t hard to get into the swing of it. Plan to spend at least 4 days here if you can, if not longer. Spend your days enjoying the beaches and snorkelling or diving in the crystal clear water, where chances are you’ll come face to face with a few turtles, and your nights socialising at the night market before moving on to one of the village bars. It’s never hard to make friends on the island! Gili Trawangan is the perfect place to totally switch off and get away from it all. In this little slice of paradise, you’ll quickly find the rest of the world fades away…


How to get there


From Lombok:

Find your way to Bangsal Harbour and haggle with the owners of the old fashioned fishing boats that will take you across the short distance, about 20 to 30 minutes, between the mainland and Gili Trawangan, passing Gili Meno and Gili Air on the way.

From Bali:

You have two choices depending on your budget, your time frame and your haggling skills. The first is the slow ferry from Pedang Bai in south-east Bali to Lembar in south-west Lombok. This can take about 4-5 hours and the standard of the ferries varies hugely. You then get on another mini-bus and head north to the departure point at Bangsal harbour, which should take about another 2 hours. As the local boats from Bangsal harbour only leave during daylight hours, this sometimes involves spending a night somewhere en route. You then catch the old fashioned fishing boats to the island.

The other option is a fast boat directly from Bali to the island, which is obviously a lot quicker but can be a lot more expensive. Prices vary hugely both online and in person, depending on your depature point and the level of comfort. Established services run from Benoa and Sarungan (only about 25 minutes from Kuta in southern Bali) and Padangbai and Amed in east and northeast Bali. Some services pass by Nusa Lembongan, another island which is well worth stopping off in if you have time.

If your haggling skills are up to scratch and you shop around enough, you should be able to find return tickets to Gili Trawangan for only a little more than the standard price of a slow boat ticket, and considering the time and discomfort you’ll save it’s generally worth paying.

If time isn’t an issue and you want to experience travelling as a local however, the slow ferry could be your best bet. Either way, when buying tickets from a dealer make sure they give you all of the necessary tickets for the different legs of your journey as they tend to be careless and you don’t want to find yourself stranded at a ferry port.

Being on Gili Trawangan is like being on a different planet. With no cars and nothing to do but commune with the turtles and watch the sunset, life on the island goes on at its own unhurried pace, and a few days there will cure any amount of stress. Why not see for yourself?

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Copyright © 2016. All Rights Reserved | Image credits:  Bart Speelman and Blue Barnacle via Flickr/Creative Commons

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